Karts lined up two by two on a racetrack, led by a red and white kart (driven by Enzo Deligny)

The 7 karting stars of 2022 who could be F1’s future

Antonelli, Tsolov, Câmara, Ugochukwu… all these drivers have shone their talent this year in Formula 4, in Italy, in Spain or in Great Britain and have all been signed by F1 Academies. The common point between them? They were all racing each other last year in the same karting category. So, who are tomorrow’s F1 stars?

By Perceval Wolff

The OK category is the top level of direct-drive karting. The category is made up of drivers who are 14 and above or who will turn fourteen during the current season. The main OK championships are the FIA World and European Championships. While the World Championship is a single event, the European one is composed of four meetings with only the best three results counting towards a driver’s points total.

Also in the OK category, the prestigious WSK Championship which takes place from January to November and are organized by the same promoters as Italian F4. The WSK Champions Cup (January), the Super Master Series (January-March), the Euro Series (July), the Open Cup (October) and the Final Cup (November) gather the fastest drivers of the OK category.

Some drivers have already managed to impress more than others and are set to join the biggest Formula 4 championships next year, as soon as they turn fifteen, and in some cases with the support of an F1 junior team or academy. Here are the biggest stars of the season set to make their single-seater debuts in 2023.

Enzo Deligny (France, 14 y/o)

The 14-year-old driver was undoubtedly the biggest revelation of the international karting scene this year. Born in April 2008 in Shanghai, the French-Chinese driver learnt karting near his birthplace, before moving to the USA at seven years old. He arrived in Europe at the end of 2020, taking his maiden podium at only his second race.

After a strong 2021 OK-Junior campaign, Enzo Deligny decided to step up to OK and become one of the youngest drivers of the category in 2022. It didn’t take long for him to get his maiden OK win at Sarno in the WSK Super Master Series at only 13 years old. Racing under a French license, he then challenged for the European title, eventually finishing fourth, before finishing runner-up of the two-event WSK Euro Series despite a mechanical failure at the first round’s pre-final.

What makes these performances even more impressive is that his team (Parolin) is not considered to be a top team, with James Wharton far from achieving these results last year for Parolin, but the Italian squad seems to have progressed. In June, Deligny was signed by TheGrid, the same driver agency as his fellow countryman Pierre Gasly.

Some extremely great news is coming for Enzo Deligny, who is preparing the biggest challenge of his young career in 2023. He has already impressed in Spanish F4 post-season testing with Campos where he topped the standings and raised the attention of many, including people from the F1 world. Could he reproduce the same achievement as Nikola Tsolov this year with the Spanish squad? The Bulgarian Lion had also finished fourth of the European Championship the season before… maybe a sign.

Enzo Deligny | Credit: Forza Enzo Deligny

Tuukka Taponen (Finland, 16 y/o)

He may already be sixteen, but Tuukka Taponen is one to watch without a doubt. The Flying Finn has been one of the big names of the international karting scene for the last three years: in OK-Junior in 2020, in OK last year, and this year, he shone with a double program in OK (direct-drive) and KZ (shifter-karts).

The 2021 OK World Champion even had a triple program this year, with his first F4 victories in the local Formula Academy Finland where he had a partial campaign. Taponen finished sixth in the European championship, and had to be satisfied with a runner-up title in the Worlds. Once again, he has proved that whatever the track, whatever the machinery, he was fighting for top positions.

The Tony Kart official driver has won the Ferrari Driver Academy’s Scouting World Finals in October at Maranello, beating the likes of Emmo Fittipaldi or Jesse Carrasquedo Jr. He could well be the main favorite for the Italian F4 title next year as he will be joining Prema, following some very successful post-season testing in the last few months.

Tuukka Taponen | Credit: Tony Kart

Kean Nakamura-Berta (Japan, 15 y/o)

Born from a Japanese mother and a Slovakian father who had no bonds with racing, Kean Nakamura-Berta proudly shows both flags on his racesuit, although he has been living in UK since he is five years old and he occasionally took the British license. The Japanese turned 15 only one month ago and is highly regarded by F1 teams, as he has already joined the Alpine Affiliate program.

Nakamura was first revealed in 2019, in a place where legends were forged: Le Mans, where he won the IAME International Final (in the X30 Mini category). Following a strong 2020, he only won one single OK-Junior race in 2021, but by far the most prestigious one: the World Karting Championship at Campillos.

Alpine didn’t hesitate long before signing him up directly for the 2022 season as an Affiliate driver. This decision turned out to be successful as the Japanese-Slovakian driver delivered his most impressive season, by winning the European OK Karting Championship and the WSK Euro Series.

But Nakamura is ambitious and dreams of F1, as he aims to enter the pinnacle of motorsport in “less than 5 years.” In order to fulfill his objectives, he has been massively testing F4 in Italy with Prema, being often present in the top 10 and even top 5.

Kean Nakamura-Berta | Credit: KSP Reportages

Freddie Slater (United Kingdom, 14 y/o)

Since his international karting debuts at Le Mans in the X30 Mini category in 2018, Freddie Slater has always been regarded as one of the brightest karting stars. The OK-Junior 2020 World and 2021 European champion has one of the most interesting records in karting.

The 2022 season may have been a bit less amazing for the young Brit from Stratford-upon-Avon, maybe because of a team less dominant in OK than in OK-Junior. 3rd of the WSK Super Master Series, he has been more transparent in the European Championship, before coming back on top for the World Championship at Sarno, with a final P5.

Slater is part of ADD Management, the same organisation that looks after Lando Norris and Zane Maloney’s careers and it’s fair to say he is in good hands, given the success of the other ADD drivers. After turning 14 in August, he made his car racing debut in Ginetta. While clinching the Ginetta Winter Series’ title in November, he also tested with Hitech in British F4 in the meantime. However, he will have to wait for his 15th birthday in August before making his official single-seaters debut.

Freddie Slater | Credit: ADD Management

Evan Giltaire (France, 16 y/o)

Evan Giltaire was revealed for the first time in 2018 at the Rotax Max Grand Finals where he was cruising to the title before a mechanical failure. After two years of progression in OK-Junior, Giltaire entered the OK category in 2021, finishing sixth of the European Championship, fighting the likes of Antonelli, Tsolov, and beating drivers like Ugochukwu or Stenshorne.

2022 was the year of maturity for the Frenchman. Fifth of the European Championship, he has utterly dominated the national karting scene, taking the title in the French Championship and in the Kartmag races. He also took multiple wins and podiums in the X30 Senior category (a category where everybody has the same engines), winning the IAME World Final at Le Mans in October.

After a final podium at the WSK Final Cup, he then went on to Las Vegas for one of the most prestigious karting events of the year: the SKUSA Supernationals that he won after scoring pole position. A mighty end of season that also saw him having his maiden F4 experience, by finishing runner-up of the Volant Richard Mille in Spain. After this first outing, he has also been testing in Italy with R-ace GP.

Evan Giltaire | Credit : Rosny 93

Alex Powell (Jamaica, 15 y/o)

Alex Powell made the headlines for the first time nearly four years ago, when he became the first Jamaican and Caribbean driver to join an F1 junior team, at only 11 years old, following a stunning European karting debut at the end of 2018. Signed by Mercedes, Alex is also known to be the cousin of Olympic Games gold-medalist and sprinter Asafa Powell.

Following multiple wins in the Mini and in the OK-Junior category, the Jamaican driver was eager to jump to OK in 2022. Driving for the Kart Republic factory team, Powell was denied the European title due to controversial team orders in the last round at Franciacorta, that favoured his teammate Kean Nakamura.

While Powell was on his way on clinching a second win in four meetings and Nakamura was P3 (which was enough for the Jamaican to be champion), team manager Dino Chiesa ordered the driver in P2 (Giltaire) to let Nakamura through so that the Japanese could get the title. “Unfortunately, we had to make decision to be sure to be P1 and P2 in the championship. If something, a penalty, a mechanical infringement, had happened after the race, we would have still been sure to win the championship like this,” Chiesa explained.

It was still a very strong season for Alex Powell. The Jamaican has tested an F4 machinery during last Summer with Winfield at Paul-Ricard and Feeder Series can reveal Mercedes advised Powell to “stay one more year in karting to gain more experience.” Powell will be doing “mostly KZ (shifter-karts) and some OK races in the FIA events,” as Taponen did this year for example.

Alex Powell | Credit: Andrew Holness

Enzo Tarnvanichkul (Thailand, 13 y/o)

He is the youngest driver of this list and that’s normal as he has only raced in OK-Junior so far. However, Enzo Tarnvanichkul has already gained Red Bull’s trust as they added him to their junior team for next year.

Despite a collision during one of the qualifying heats that dropped him on P6 on the final’s grid, Tarnvanichkul had the greatest win of his career at the World Championship at Sarno. This came after a solid season that saw him finishing fifth of the European Championship. He also finished the season on a high, by winning the last race of the season, with the WSK Final Cup at Lonato.

Only two wins, but two very important ones. Now signed by the Red Bull Junior Team, he should step up to the OK category for next year where he will surely be one of the title favorites.

Enzo Tarnvanichkul | Credit : Tony Kart

Honourable mentions

19-year-old Brazilian Matheus Morgatto was crowned OK World Champion at Sarno in September. Inconsistent (20th of the four-round European Championship) but so fast in his best days, Morgatto was linked to a move to Brazilian F4 but will finally stay in karting, as he will be joining Leclerc by Lennox in both OK and KZ2 categories. Tomass Štolcermanis from Latvia is fifteen and a half years old, and has again been one of the frontrunners of the karting scene. His win at the WSK Open Cup in October was his only one of the year, and it was in front of a field where many of the other contenders were absent as they were starting F4 tests.

Enzo Tarnvanichkul was not the only driver to shine in the OK-Junior category, as Anatoly Khavalkin from Russia stormed his way to the European title. Alongside the British driver Nathan Tye, he has made an amazing debut in the OK category at the WSK Final Cup in November, both drivers taking P3 and P4 for their first championship at this level. It’s important to note that the biggest drivers were absent for a part or the entirety of the championship because of F4 testing.

Deligny, Taponen, Nakamura-Berta, Slater, Giltaire, Powell, Tarnvanichkul… remember these names, because without any doubt, we will see some of them climbing up the feeder series ladder very soon!

Header photo credit: KSP Reportages

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